“One of my kids threw a chair today.”
“My kid locked himself in the classroom at lunch and then threatened to run away.”
“A parent told me I should have noticed the signs of her daughter wanting to self-harm.”
It was 2018, and my college classmates and I were swapping horror stories as the final year of our teacher’s program came to a close. Tales like ours were the norm — 70 per cent of educators see or experience similar situations in their classroom — so I would often think of the teachers I’d admired in my youth and wonder, “Were we this difficult for them?”
I always hoped I’d be like those teachers, one day: kind, fun and respected by all. But, I realized that I would not be able to start my mission to be that kind, fun and respected teacher if the drama outside the classroom continued to escalate in Ontario’s education system, year after year.
For all its prestige, I knew I couldn’t root my career in Ontario.
A job there didn’t always seem undesirable. I’d accepted my offer to a concurrent teacher’s college program straight out of high school in 2013, with the intent of graduating and immediately securing a job teaching French in Ontario. It was an easy decision: I loved working with kids, I wanted to use my French at work. I even dreamed that I’d teach at my old elementary school.
Yet, over the course of teacher’s college, I saw the reality facing Ontario teachers.
“Teacher contract negotiations always blow up into a province-wide scandal.”
My mentors were burnt out from dealing with a lack of funding, administrative miscommunication, overly demanding parents, and governments that didn’t value the students’ opinion in their education. They arrived at school in the morning dreading the day ahead, tired from the work they took home the night before.
They often said that their work outside of the classroom detracted from their job inside of it. Even as a student teacher, I felt the same — and I didn’t even have to take the lead in all of it. It affected my mood and the atmosphere in the classroom, and I knew that was no good. I would not be able to teach my students well like this.
Teacher contract negotiations always blow up into a province-wide scandal. It happened when teachers went on strike in 2003, and again in 2012 and 2015. Each time, I had to hear my family members and the public voice their discontent.
Naysayers drag the profession through the mud and harp on the pay, benefits, retirement packages and vacation time that teachers earn. What isn’t considered as often is how much of their own money teachers all over Canada spend on their own class supplies and resources, and how many of the activities they do are voluntary.
In the latest strikes, Ontario teachers are once again taking action with students in mind. Since Premier Doug Ford assumed his role in 2018, the changes to the education system have been moving the province backwards: increasing class sizes, reducing funding for school programs and moving away from a much-needed inclusive curriculum. A student-teacher ratio reaching as high as 40:1 and e-learning won’t set students up for success.
I’ve seen this drama play out over and over again in Ontario, and I decided I wasn’t going to be part of it. After graduating in 2018, I moved to China instead.
I’ve been teaching here in Shanghai for 1.5 years. I work at a Canadian international school where 97 per cent of my students are Chinese nationals hoping to attend top universities in Canada, the U.K. or other English-speaking countries. We teach the same curriculum that students in British Columbia are accustomed to, and are subject to standards of both the B.C. Ministry of Education and Shanghai’s provincial and municipal boards of education.
My class sizes are at 18 on average, but I’ve had a few with only 12 students. My biggest problem is overworked students falling asleep in class. Students hold various responsibilities in the school, and many of them want to be there because they see that their role models respect and value education.
“Why stay loyal to an education system that doesn’t do everything it can for its students?”
The students are not all angels, of course, and I don’t expect them to be. But it makes my job so much easier when I don’t have to be a babysitter or a punching bag for the verbal attacks of students and parents alike. I don’t have to defend the integrity of my career to anonymous social media haters or people who think “the work is not that onerous nor specialized and the hours not too taxing.”
I’ve advanced my career with leadership opportunities that I would not have had in Ontario. If I ever decide to return to Canada to teach, I will not be at a disadvantage.
Best of all, my choice to move to China allows me to focus on doing my job: being the best teacher I can be.
My family, friends and even some classmates have asked me why I took a job abroad when I could have secured one at home. I won’t sugarcoat it: I had lingering doubts during my first year abroad. I would hear colleagues in Canada say words like pension and union, and wonder if I should just return to Ontario where job safety and retirement funds are more assured.
However, those are words that make people hold onto jobs that make them overly stressed and unhappy. Why stay loyal to an education system that doesn’t do everything it can for its students? You don’t go into teaching for the money, anyway — why stay for the money matters?
So, Ontario teachers: know that there are options for you in international schools abroad. New teachers will generally have the most opportunities in China, while experienced teachers will also have opportunities in countries like Korea, Thailand, Qatar and the UAE.
Teachers have historically moved abroad due to the tight job market, but you can do it for your own reasons: take your title as a teacher and bring it where it earns you less drama and more respect. If the Government of Ontario doesn’t start treating its teachers better, I expect that soon there won’t be any left.
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